THE TREES BY PHILIP LARKIN
Introduction: We all know that Nature is a great teacher. Human life repeats many aspects of nature. The cyclic pattern of life in nature is reﬂected in human life also. This poem takes a philosophical look at nature and life. What is the general tone of the poem? Is it grief or a kind of acceptance? What lesson about life does this poem give us?
Read the poem very carefully and try to understand it on your own before seeking the help of the notes given below.
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain
Yet still, the unresting castles thresh.
In full-grown thickness every May,
Last year is dead, they seem to say, Begin afresh, afresh, afresh
About the Author: Philip Larkin (1922—1985), is the most signiﬁcant poet of Britain in the post-second World War period. He is an urban poet writing in a very simple style. A lonely observer of events and things around him, he rejected any idealized image of life.
You must have read the poem now, what does it communicate to you? You would have found certain words and expressions difﬁcult. It is only natural. To have a more complete understanding of the poem, refer to the stanza wise meanings and explanations given below.
Meanings and Explanations
Coming into leaf: An idiomatic way of describing fresh leaves appearing on a tree.
Like something… said: The poet uses a curious example to describe the growth of new leaves. He compares it to someone about to say something. The fresh leaves are the message. (This comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as’ called a simile.)
recent: not long ago
bud: a ﬂower or leaf that is not yet fully open. (Here it is a leaf bud)
The recent buds relax and spread: The opening and spreading of closed leaf buds into leaves imaginatively referred to as a relaxing. The buds described as if they are human and enjoying good leisure.
Their greenness …… grief: This line gives a shock. The new life of the buds (suggest by their “greenness”) also reminds the poet of death (suggested by the word “grief” ). The explanation of this contradictory meaning (paradox) is offered in the next stanza
The poet describes the coming of new life in nature during the spring season. The buds grow into leaves. This greening of nature is referred to in negative terms as an event bringing sorrow.
What is the link between new life and sorrow? Think about it.
grain: pattern made by the lines of ﬁbres in wood.
The poet asks the question whether trees are different from human beings because the trees can continuously renew themselves by growing fresh leaves, whereas human beings grow old only to die. He answers saying that it is not so. Although new leaves appear on the tree every year, this happens after the tree sheds old leaves. Hence with every year the tree ages. Therefore, the aging process of the tree can be measured by counting the number of rings on the trunk. This is commonly called as the grain of the wood. Thus the tree only seems to remain fresh. He, therefore, calls it a “trick” in line 7. How is the aging of a tree different from the aging of human beings?
Unresting: continuous movement of the leaves caused by the wind. The tree never rests because it is constantly renewing itself.
Castles: large fortiﬁed (strengthened against attack) buildings. Here the trees are referred to as castles. Why? The castle is a metaphor for tree. This use of language is metaphorical.
Thresh: separate the grain from its husk by beating the grain-bearing bundle of plants over a surface. Here it points to violent movement.
May: spring season
Last year ……… afresh: shows how the trees renew life every year.
The poet, however, comes to accept the fact that life in nature can begin afresh every year, whereas man as an individual must grow old and die. May is the month when trees are full of leaves and ﬂowers. The continuously renewing trees (“castles”) sway violent (“thresh”) in the wind. The poet may have used the term “‘thresh” because of the way thickly growing trees in a forest rub against each other strongly. The rich covering of tree is compared to lofty castles. What do castles and trees have in common? For one, they are both tall and strong. Secondly, both suggest something regal (royal or majestic). Third, they can have an association with old times or the distant past. The trees seem, to the imaginative mind of poet, to convey the message of cyclicity and renewal as it says “being afresh”.
Do you now have a better understanding of the poem? Let us now try to answer the questions on the poem, shall we?
Comprehension Short Answer Questions :
1. What phrase does the poet use to describe the appearance of fresh leaves on the tree?
Ans. The poet uses the expression “coming into leaf”
2. What is simile ‘?
Ans. A simile is a way of expressing something in which a thing is described by comparing it with something else usually using the words ‘as’ or ‘like’ as in the example, ‘eyes sparkling like diamonds.’
3. What simile does the poet use to describe the emergence of leaves on trees?
Ans. According to the poet, the leaves appear “like something almost bein said”.
4. Why does the poet use the adjective “recent” to describe buds?
Ans. The adjective “recent” is used to suggest the quick change from leaf bud to leaf.
5. How do the leaf buds transform into leaves?
Ans. The leaf buds “relax and spread” into leaves
6. Why does the “greenness” of the leaves bring about grief?
Ans. The “greenness” of the new leaves also remind the poet of the passing of time and aging implied in each renewal of life.
7. Don’t the trees grow old?
Ans. Yes, they do even though they seem to get a new life every year, they are in fact. growing old.
8. What is the “yearly thick” the trees play on us?
Ans. The trees fool us into thinking that they are born again every year.
9. How do the trees show their age?
Ans. The number of rings of grain on the trunk of trees give away their age.
10. What is the metaphor used to describe the trees?
Ans. The trees are metaphorically described as castles
11. What is a metaphor?
Ans. A metaphor is an expression in which a person action or thing is described as if it really were what it merely resembles.
12. What is the difference between a Simile and Metaphor?
Ans. A Simile says that one thing is like another. A metaphor says that one thing is the other,
E.g. a) My love is like a red red rose. (Simile)
b) My love is a red red rose (Metaphor)
13. What do trees and castles have in common?
Ans. Both trees and castles are tall and strong, majestic-looking and old.
14. Why are the trees referred to as “unresting”?
Ans. The constant movement of the trees due to the wind makes the poet refer to them as “unresting”
15. What does May signify?
Ans. May is springtime When the trees become covered fully with leaves and branches after winter When they are bare
16. What is the message of trees to man?
Ans. The constantly renewing trees seem to tell us to begin afresh as the previous year is dead and gone.
Paragraph Questions and Answers.
1. What does the poet say about trees?
Ans. The poet describes the way trees come to life every year during the spring season. The emptiness of the winter season is transformed as the trees break out into leaves and ﬂowers. The leaf- buds relax and spread out to become big leaves. This greening of the trees brings sorrow because it is a reminder of passing time and aging. Every year there is a renewal of life, at the same time the tree ages and this is recorded in the rings of grain. During the month of May, the trees appear in full growth
2. How does the poet treat the theme of the passage of time?
Ans. Every object in nature submits to change as time passes. In the case of the trees, their change is cyclic and the pattern of change is repeated every year. The spring season ﬁnds the trees renewing themselves. New leaves appear and spread greenness. This renewal of life is a rebirth. This does not mean that they do not age, every year the trees look new but this is the only a trick. They also age and this is recorded in the rings of grain. Nature, thus shows us how life and death are close to each other, almost continuous.
3. Examine the poet’s attitude to nature and how he uses it to reﬂect on life.
Ans. The poem “The Trees” looks at a very common feature in nature-how the trees shed old leaves while new leaves are forever appearing again. This “yearly trick” of looking new hides the fact the trees also grew old The age of trees is recorded in the rings of grain on the tree trunks. Thus, the greenness of the trees brings to mind sorrow as it points to change and aging. This pattern of cyclicity of life and death can be seen in life too. To the poet, this feature in nature suggests how life and death are continuous. Nature serves to show us this fact.